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Chief of sunken ferry operator grilled over corruption allegations

2014/04/29 10:37

INCHEON, April 29 (Yonhap) -- The head of a capsized ferry's operator appeared before prosecutors Tuesday to face questioning over various corruption allegations surrounding the owner family of the shipping company.

Kim Han-sik, the chief executive of Chonghaejin Marine Co. that owns and operates the Sewol, showed up at the Incheon District Prosecutors' Office in the western port city of Incheon around 10:00 a.m. as a suspect in a widening investigation.

The summons came as part of the probe into what caused the deadly sinking of the Sewol on April 16 that has killed 193 people and left more than 100 others still missing. Of the 476 people aboard the ship, which sank in waters off the southwestern island of Jindo, only 174 people were rescued.

The prosecution suspects that the 72-year-old chief is one of seven close aides to Yoo Byung-eun, a former chief of Semo Marine Co., the predecessor of the operator of the Sewol, and was deeply involved in the alleged crimes committed by Yoo.

Charges against Yoo and the owner family include embezzlement, dereliction of duty, tax evasion and bribery, prosecutors said.

Yoo's family is suspected of accumulating at least 240 billion won (US$230.7 million) in assets by embezzling corporate funds while failing to fulfill its duty of properly managing the companies. Prosecutors have also traced their hidden assets to pay damages to the victims and their families.

The prosecution has also notified Yoo's second son and his daughter to return to South Korea from overseas to face questioning.

The second son, Yoo Hyuck-ki, is one of the biggest shareholders in I-One-I holdings, along with the first son, Dae-hyun. The holding company owns stakes in Chonhaiji, a shipbuilding unit, which in turn owns about 40 percent of the ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine.

Yoo Hyuck-ki also owns an around 10 percent stake in Ahae Corp., a paint manufacturing company, and Ahae Press Corp, while the first son also holds a majority stake in Chonghaejin and door-to-door sales company Dapanda Co.

Such cross-share holdings helped the family manage and control the entire group of companies, including more than a dozen overseas units, some of which are being implicated in the deadly sinking of the Sewol.

Kim, who owns an 11.6 percent stake in the company, is one of the firm's top three shareholders along with the two sons, prosecutors said. Kim, in a wheelchair, appeared in public last week when Chonghaejin apologized for the disaster.

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